Basic ornamentation techniques: taps or strikes

What is a tap?

A "tap" or "strike" is a way of decorating a note by momentarily sounding the note immediately beneath it. This is a very simple, subtle, and yet highly effective way of shaping the note.

Taps can also be used for the purposes of articulation - to separate two notes of the same pitch. Also, together with cuts, taps are also used as components of a more complex ornament known as a roll.

Example 1: The south wind

Let's start straight away with some examples in a tune. Here's a simple air in 3/4 time, The south wind. On the score, the tiny "grace" notes are the taps.

The taps I play here serve two purposes. Most of them are there to shape, add interest or draw attention to the note they precede. But those in bar 4 of the first part and the last bar of the second part are there to separate two notes of the same pitch. You can spot these because they occur between two notes "tied" with a tie mark.

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Click the icon at left to listen to The south wind ornamented with taps (170K)

To play the tap preceding the first note in the first bar, B, (and all taps in front of subsequent Bs), place the two fingers of your top hand down as if to play an A. Sound the A, and then immediately lift your second finger so that the main note, B, is sounded. Just lift your finger straight up --  don't slide it sideways or upwards. This draws attention to the note and gives it a little more shape and interest than it would otherwise have.

At the start of bar 4, the tap separates two As. Instead of tonguing the second A, "tap" your G finger down on to its hole to provide the articulation. This kind of tap always sounds best played quickly.

In the remainder of the first part, there is another tap on a B, and one on a low E, executed by tapping your D finger down.

In the second part of the tune, there is a tap on the high G starting the second bar. I could have slurred the previous note into this one, without tonguing, as I did with the two As in bar 4 of the first part. But I didn't, just to give a little extra emphasis.

The remaining taps are similar to ones we have already played, with the exception of the last bar, where I use a tap on the low G to separate two notes without tonguing.

Example 2: The britches full of stitches

Now for some examples in a simple polka, The britches full of stitches.

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Click the icon at left to hear the tune (no repeats) ornamented with taps (70K)

You can spot the taps here easily enough. The ones in the last two bars of each part are used to separate notes of the same pitch without tonguing. Practise this, although once we've looked at cuts, I would recommend you use cuts rather than taps for this situation. This tune sounds a little flat with nothing but taps to decorate it, but there you go.

Uses of taps

The two tunes above give just a few examples of how to use this technique. Experiment with it in all your tunes - it will soon form an essential element of your "ornamentation spice rack" that you can use to flavour a tune to your taste. Notice how playing the taps more quickly or slowly gives a different effect. You'll find taps particularly useful in slow airs, but once you get them up to speed, they can be used to great effect in dance tunes too.

Related ornaments

Taps are related to other ornaments: slides, or glissando, and "doubling" (topic to be added). They are often used for some of the same purposes as the next twiddly bit on the menu, cuts.

Updated 10 November 2000 (formatting 14 October 2004)